Il Sogno Ristorante
A hidden gem of sophisticated Italian cuisine
Joey’s by the Shore, Compo Beach, Westport
photographs by Bob Capazzo
In an unassuming neighborhood where Port Chester meets Greenwich sits a stellar restaurant with spectacular food. Cruising down the Post Road past big box stores and ubiquitous chains, Il Sogno looks like nothing special from the outside. When you enter, you are reminded that appearances can be deceiving. The dining room is handsome and masculine, yet cozy. It doesn’t take long once you are seated to realize that here the customer is king (or queen) and that you will be well taken care of. Napkins are snapped to attention by the serious waitstaff and placed on ladies’ laps. Menus are brought out after drink orders are taken, and a long list of specials are explained to diners. Il Sogno’s owner estimates that to keep up with seasonal harvests the restaurant offers over a thousand specials in a year.
That means that if, like this reviewer, you are menu-centric, you may miss out on some of what Il Sogno does best: those daily specials. Yes, read the menu. But also listen to the nightly recitation closely and observe the lovely plates coming out of the kitchen.
Sometimes simple is the key to greatness in a restaurant. If the chef can resist gilding the lily with all manner of trendy things, then what is on the plate must shine on its own. With this in mind, our first appetizer was the Bufala Caprese, thick slabs of fresh buffalo mozzarella served with roasted peppers and sliced tomatoes. Drizzled with well-aged balsamic vinegar, it was a perfect rendition of the classic. Slightly more exotic but equally savory is Calamari alla Griglia, finger-sized pieces of bronzed squid, sweet and tender. Caesar Salad, another classic, was perfectly prepared: elegant tiles of shaved parmesan balanced over chilled romaine lettuce and a handful of garlic croutons. Our favorite salad proved to be Insalata Rossa, beets roasted to perfection, cubed and served on a large leaf of radicchio with steamed carrots and goat cheese. Every bite was perfectly balanced and delicious.
Our waiter was happy to serve us half portions of pasta as a separate course. He recommended Capellini alla Riviera, a subtle melody of clams, mussels, crab meat, fresh tomato and chopped arugula in garlic and oil. A pasta special that our neighbors at a nearby table ordered was a hearty meatball and Bolognese sauced pasta. If we had an extra stomach we would have had some of this, too; it looked delicious.
Fillet of sole is usually a lackluster dish, but it can be transcendent, as it is at London’s venerable Wilton’s or the equally venerable Sam’s Grill of San Francisco. We ordered it as a hurdle that Il Sogno would need to fly over if we were to be awed. Happy to report that it was probably the best fillet of sole we have ever had the pleasure of eating: thick, luscious fillets dipped in egg batter and lightly sautéed—piscatorial perfection!
Next we tried an item from the menu: Scallopinial Modo Nostra, very thin small bites of veal sautéed with figs, raisins and pine nuts and a reduction of dark brown balsamic vinegar. It was a strange dish, not bad-strange, just odd. To look at it you would think you had ordered stir-fried beef at an Asian restaurant. The veal is hidden in the dark balsamic sauce and the figs and raisins blot out the delicacy of the veal’s flavor. Compared with the light-handed perfection of the sole, it was not a favorite. For hearty appetites we would rather get the lamb shank that was parading out of the kitchen in droves, a popular dish that was seductive in both size and beauty.
A number of years ago one of the glossy food magazines did a roundup of what famous chefs ordered when they went out to dine. Roast chicken came in as number one; even Andre Solter of Lutece said it was the true test of a good kitchen. If you order the roasted half chicken at Il Sogno, gilded lightly with white wine, garlic and a squeeze of lemon, you will have a memorable meal.
There is no dessert menu; the selections are recited by the waitstaff. It is not a huge assortment, but adequate to finish off a lovely meal. The best of all was zabaglione, ivory custard flavored boldly with hazelnut liqueur instead of the usual Marsala wine. Suspended within the custard in its large wine glass were perfectly ripe strawberry slices. The crème brûleé was oddly under-sweetened; ricotta cheesecake’s a better choice.
Perhaps because our table consisted of ladies of a certain age, we were brought small glasses of sparkling Prosecco Asti as a complimentary ending. We suspect all diners receive this but it was fun to dream that the handsome Mediterranean waiters were swooning at the sight of us.
When we arrived at the restaurant we were the only diners, when we left (after quite a long meal) there was
not a free table in the place. The room tone was convivial, no annoying music fought against conversations, and even though we had dined long and late, leaving this charming place was not easy.
316 Boston Post Rd, Port Chester, NY
Lunch: Mon.–Sun., 12 p.m.–3 p.m
Dinner: Sun.–Thur., 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–11 p.m.
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